PAVEMENT magazine

COMICS COLUMN

December 1999 / January 2000


MADE IN NEW ZEALAND
Landmark New Zealand comics of the twentieth century.

Halfback Comics and other titles, by Eric Resetar (1941-late 1950s)

Resetar was a teenager during World War Two when he self-published the first of his ‘blood & thunder’ comics. More followed, including the classic Crash O’Kane: an All-Black on Mars. He wasn’t the only local cartoonist publishing comics back then; Harry Bennett, for example, was a ‘loveable rogue’ who almost single-handedly wrote, drew and published dozens of titles like Supreme, Bonzer and Big Time. Other New Zealanders, including Noel Cook and Unk White, had already crossed the ditch to work in the Australian comics industry. But somehow Resetar’s occasionally crude but always lively homemade comics encapsulate much of what I love about New Zealand comics.

Strips (1977-1987), edited by Colin Wilson et al

Strips is the granddaddy of all that’s come since in New Zealand comics. It gave a home to the best of the local cartoonists who’d emerged in the early seventies: people like Joe Wylie, Laurence Clark and - most notably - Barry Linton, who is probably New Zealand’s greatest living cartoonist. Linton deserves to be as well known as Tim Finn or Dick Frizzell and collections of his powerful, sexy, distinctively Pacific strips ought to be available in every New Zealand bookshop. Strips also gave us Colin Wilson, who created Captain Sunshine (remember him?) and then went off to Europe, where he worked on 2000AD and Jean Giraud’s Lt. Blueberry series and his own Rael.

Razor (1985-1992), edited by Cornelius Stone

Razor took up the torch from Strips during the late eighties and quickly became the key meeting-place for the New Zealand comics scene. Where Strips was slickly designed and a synthesis of the American and European comics scenes of the 1970s, Razor reflected the post-punk era of American magazines like Raw and Weirdo. But it was always gloriously eclectic, mixing superheroes and ‘furries’ with avant-garde experimentation. Razor was the proving ground for a new generation of cartoonists: including myself and Roger Langridge (whose Zoot is another major landmark in New Zealand comics).

White Trash (1992), by Gordon Rennie and Martin Emond (Tundra)

Although written by an Englishman and published in America, White Trash was illustrated by a 21-year old Aucklander called Martin Emond. Emond’s Simon Bisley-influenced thrash metal style and his overseas success inspired countless young New Zealanders to throw away their rapidographs and reach for a paintbrush. Emond went on to draw for Lobo, Heavy Metal and Verotika before virtually abandoning comics in favour of illustration, painting and his thrash band Flamejob. But others have followed in his footsteps, including studio-mate Simon Morse, whose work first surfaced in Wellington’s Pisstake anthology and who’s since been published in America and Japan. Like Peter Jackson in film, Emond made it all seem possible: a young Kiwi could make a big splash on the world comics stage - earning fame and serious money - without emigrating. His influence was soon evident in local comics like Mainstream, a glossy anthology produced by AIT graphic design students, including Kelvin Soh (creator of Velvet Butterfly and Litmus Red) and Ant Sang (whose Filth was one of the 1990’s most popular local minicomics).

Maui: Legends of the Outcast (1996) by Robert Sullivan and Chris Slane (Godwit)

This full-colour graphic novel wasn’t the first to be published in New Zealand, but with its luscious, brooding artwork, ambitious format and utterly indigenous story, Maui represented a coming-of-age for New Zealand comics. One can only hope that other local publishers follow the lead of Godwit (and overseas publishing giants like Random House and Penguin) in recognising the potential and significance of graphic novels.

Blink (1996) by Adam Jamieson, Illumina (1997-8) by Timothy Kidd, Interlude Pie (1997-8) by Sophie McMillan

The spread of cheap, high-quality photocopying in the late 1980s and 1990s led to a new format: the ‘minicomic.’ Anthologies disappeared along with the need to band together to cover the cost of offset printing and the solo comic became the order of the day. There’ve been so many great minicomics in the past ten years but these are three of my favourites - all demonstrate enormous creative ambition and talent. Watch these three cartoonists - they will do big things in the new millennium. As, I’m sure, will Karl Wills, Tim Bollinger, Brendan Philip and countless others we haven’t heard of yet. With cartoonists like these, New Zealand is set to become one of the most exciting comics scenes of the 21st century.

My 10 Favourite Comics of 1999:
1. The Jew of New York by Ben Katchor (Pantheon/Random House)
2. L’Ascension du Haut Mal (vol.4) by David B. (L’Association)
3. Goodbye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf)
4. Kissers by James Kochalka (Highwater Books)
5. Silly Daddy: A Death in the Family by Joe Chiappetta (Joe Chiappetta)
6. Louis Riel by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)
7. Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics)
8. Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope (Vertigo)
9. Top Shelf on Parade edited by Brett Warnock (Top Shelf)
10. Tom Strong by Alan Moore et al (America’s Best Comics)

Comics supplied by Gotham Comics, 131 The Mall, Onehunga, Auckland. Ph/fax: (09) 634-4399, email: gotham@comics.co.nz, website: www.comics.co.nz. Mail orders welcome.

 

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